The timing was fortuitous, coming as the Cornell Faculty Senate was about to start voting on proposed Critical Race Theory mandates for faculty and students. My very public opposition to those proposals has generated a fair amount of attention. We should know the final outcome of the voting in a few days, though I think it’s almost certain some form of mandates will pass. Then it will be up to the president of the university.
Here is a very partial transcript of the podcast. Timestamps are approximatel. Emphasis added.
Dan Freeborn: …. Well, let’s dive into things right away. CriticalRace.org is becoming a really widely used resource for parents and students as they’re searching colleges and where they should be attending. Can you elaborate a little bit more on what critical race.org is, and how it works, and why you built it? Was there a tipping point for you that brought this all to be?
William A. Jacobson (01:55):
Sure, I’ll try to take those in pieces. What it is is essentially a database of academic offerings and events and other things in higher education that I think at least loosely fall under the rubric of Critical Race Theory, and some of the things we have on there don’t, but people get to judge. So it’s a database that tells you what is happening at now over 300 colleges and universities in the United States. Not every school on there has mandatory training or mandatory coursework. You can find out if your school is on there, yet you can just look and find out it is a interactive map of the United States. You can hover over with your mouse, and click on the state, and then it will list the schools in that state. So it’s a very interactive database, graphically easy to use. We also have a lot of other resources on the website, such as what is Critical Race Theory, how people can learn it.
So different educational resources, links to articles by many leading scholars about it. We also have sections for K-12. Even though the website was originally dedicated to higher education, we found that that’s a huge need. And so we are providing resources. They are not a map yet, but other resources. We have a complete, separate section on the 1619 Project. And I think that we will be rolling out and expanding the website. It’s a big priority.
We rolled it out on, I think it was, February 4 of this year, so it’s relatively new, but it got just enormous, enormous attention. Actually shocking attention to me. I thought it would be a nice little project of the Legal Insurrection Foundation. And it’s turned into this thing. We just happened to catch the issue at the right moment. Which kind of gets me to the other part of your question, which is how did it come about, and why did we do it?
And fortunately this is a podcast, not a seven minute radio interview, so I can give you some full explanation, the beauty of podcasts. So we have covered for a decade, what I think now is called, “cancel culture” on campuses. We’ve seen it develop. We’ve covered it. We’ve seen it migrate from campus to high-tech, from campus to the broader culture. Part of that “cancel culture”, were issues related to race, the demonization of people who disagreed on policy issues. So if you were opposed to Obamacare, you were called a racist. And this use of accusations of racism was a political weapon. So we saw all of this going on, but we never really treated it as a separate subject at Legal Insurrection until last year. And what changed was the death of George Floyd and the surge of rioting and looting, but [also], as relates to academia, the attempt to impose the doctrine of Critical Race Theory on campuses.
Now they don’t [always] call it Critical Race Theory. Most of the time that the euphemism is “anti-racism”, which of course is really one of the genius linguistic slights of hand in history because they take something which actually is racist, and they call it anti-racist. And therefore, if you were opposed to that, you’re a bad person. So to the extent I use the term, “anti-racist”, I’m using it the way they use it, not that I buy into it. And so I saw all this. I became a target of cancel culture at Cornell Law School because I criticized the rioting and the looting. And I also wrote a post, which I’d written before. It actually was like a re-run of posts about how the Michael Brown “hands up, don’t shoot” was a fabricated narrative. It is the formative narrative of the Black Lives Matter movement. And it’s fabricated. It never happened. The Justice Department under Eric Holder and Barack Obama found it never happened.
Yet, it is the foundational narrative. And so I wrote about this, and then people tried to get me fired. There were boycotts, et cetera. So all of this is kind of going on at the same time. And then, in mid-July of last year, as I’m going through all this, the president of Cornell University issued a statement announcing that anti-racist ideology would become embedded in all aspects of campus. And she immediately imposed certain requirements on staff, but sent it to the Faculty Senate to discuss requirements and mandates on students and faculty. And when I saw that, we began to research it, and I was originally going to write an op-ed or an article or blog post about it. In fact, I did write a blog post about it, but we’re going to do something more. Try to get attention to it.
And as a team began to look into it, we realized that this was much bigger than we thought, that there were a lot of universities moving in this direction, school districts, corporations to impose this ideology on people. And sometime in September, we decided, “You know what? We need a separate website for this.” And the actual triggering event was on, I believe it was, September 7, 2020. Several hundred Cornell University faculty, staff, and students signed a list of demands, and they issued an open letter of demands, and posted it someplace and had people sign up with Google Forms. You know how that goes. And it really was pretty horrific. It called for race-based hiring, which would be illegal. It called for other race-based actions. And really it’s what they envisioned the campus would look like under the president’s directive. Now the president didn’t call for illegal hiring, but the faculty did.
And it was literally at that moment that we decided as a team, “You know what? We’ve got to push this out there. We’ve got to do it in a different way.” So we hired somebody to design the database. We hired people to enter the data and do the research. The hope was to roll it out before the election, but that didn’t happen for technical reasons. Then, as we’re approaching launch and, in a couple of weeks, the election will die down. It’ll be done. And then we can roll this out, like the first week in December.
Well, as we know, the election didn’t just go away. And then we’re moving at Christmas, and it’s still not gone away. And I figured, we’re ready to roll this thing out, but no one will pay attention to it. I mean, if we roll it out in the middle of all of this, no one will pay attention. So we stalled, and we stalled. And finally we saw a window of opportunity after the inauguration, but before the impeachment trial. That’s how crazy [the] times we live in [are]. And we timed it right. We timed it right. It was that first week in February when it was a slow news cycle, as we’ve had in four years, but certainly in three to four months. And we rolled it out, and we got a lot of articles written about it. And I realized that we are onto something here. I was on Tucker Carlson at 8:30 on a Thursday night.
By midnight, we had 400,000 visits to the website, and that’s not like a Drudge link where you just click on a button. People had to type it. They heard him say CriticalRace.org, like ten times. People had to type it in. At one point, we had 70,000 people on the website. It’s a miracle it didn’t crash. Anybody who’s run a website. That’s just like insane traffic. That’s like major network traffic to have that many people on at one moment. And we realized that we’re onto something. And so we have been building it up, building it out, expanding the list of schools, going into more depth on schools, and adding K-12 resources. And that’s what it is. And that’s how we got here.
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Dan Freeborn, Host (13:56):
And it sounds like, from what I’ve seen using the website, it’s not just places where Critical Race Theory is being mandated through trainings or curriculum. It’s just how it’s been adopted on a campus per se, whether it be a guest speaker coming in. I know there’s a few of them highlighting that Ibram X. Kendi was welcomed as a guest speaker as part of their campus-wide reading initiative of “How to Be an Antiracist.” I wouldn’t say it was a mandate, but it just goes to show.
William A. Jacobson, (14:23):
In some places, it’s a mandate. But it also speaks to the campus culture. If there’s a lot of activity going on, it reflects the campus culture. And sometimes it’s hard to decide, is this critical race theory versus traditional diversity? And so, we listed all, and let you decide. And we try to provide a short explanation for each school, our analysis. But a lot of times it’s difficult. There are all sorts of euphemisms that get passed around, “diversity, equity and inclusion.” Well, “equity” is the key word there. Equity is essentially the Critical Race [Theory term]. Equity is the anti-racism, the Kendi approach, which is everything that is not equal is racist. And the remedy for past racism is current racism. That’s Kendi’s point. So we try to present the information. We present the Google search that people can do. And it’s an educational tool for people. It’s not a blacklist. It’s not a boycott list. It’s not a “don’t go” list. Sometimes people who don’t read, actually read the website, that’s what they assume. And that’s the way some in the media, not all. But some in the media tried to portray it, when we rolled it out, that this is a list of schools to avoid. And it’s not. First of all, if you had to avoid all of these schools, you’d be hard pressed to find a place to go to school. That’s how pervasive it is.
Dan Freeborn, Host (15:59):
I mean, it’s similar. There’s websites that are solely dedicated to ranking schools, based on their costs, most affordable. And it’s not saying “don’t attend.” They’re just simply presenting the information. So I would argue that this is just as important of a tool to have in the college search toolbox for families that are looking through institutions where their kids might be heading, just to understand the landscape of the institution they’re considering. So you’re involved professionally in higher education. From your perspective, how are you seeing the increased adoption of Critical Race Theory and its tenets? How is that changing the landscape of [your institution]?
William A. Jacobson (16:32):
Well, one way is through mandates and other requirements. There’s consideration at Cornell. The faculty Senate finally rendered its final, final report, or I should say the working group from the Faculty Senate. And there are mandates in there, and it has received a surprising pushback. It’s surprised me very much. Now, the pushback has not been so much. We disagree with Critical Race Theory, or we disagree with this anti-racism agenda. It’s more, this is an infringement of our academic freedom, as faculty. And it’s an infringement of student academic freedom. So I don’t know what’s going to happen. They’ve changed the language. They’ve worded it down [for] the faculty. The original resolution was going to be that the Faculty Senate endorses the proposals from the working groups. Now, because of the pushback, it’s going to be that the Faculty Senate recommends that the president give it serious consideration.
So it’s gone from, “We endorse it” to “Give it serious consideration.” Now the Faculty Senate has no power to do anything. It’s merely advisory. The president passed it off to the faculty Senate. She said, because of shared governance on campus, that things that impact the curriculum and that impact faculty should at least initially be considered by the Faculty Senate, the university Faculty Senate. And that’s what’s happened, but she could reject it entirely or accept it entirely. I don’t know what she’s going to do, but the fact that it has been watered down, hopefully will send a message to the president of the university that she started this ball rolling downhill last July with her initiative, and it’s gone off course. It’s not right what’s happening. I’ve issued public statements. I’ve written about it extensively. I’ve posted my comment at the Faculty Senate website, where they’re accepting faculty comments, and I’ve come out very strongly about it against it, that it will have a negative effect in many different ways.
One is it’s anti-educational. Anytime you have coercion that is anti-educational. Now people say, “Well, you require students to take freshman English,” or something like that. Actually I’d be fine if they drop that, but that’s not an ideology. There are certain requirements that are considered foundational. Now the supporter of Critical Race Theory would say they think it should be foundational. I disagree with that, but it is coercive. No matter how you measure it, it’s coercive. So if there are no other ideological-based courses that are required, university-wide, there may be departmental courses that are required to get your major, but that’s a little different. And on faculty, it really would be unprecedented to require faculty to go through these trainings. The only trainings that I’m aware of are the ones mandated by state law.
Every certain number of years, you have to take an online module regarding sexual harassment. And that’s a state law requirement. That’s not a Cornell requirement. So this would be to my knowledge, the first required training module that faculty would have to take. So, one, it’s coercive. It’s anti educational; it’s an infringement of our academic freedom. And it also essentially adopts an official ideology for the university. If you read, or your listeners read, the working group proposals, they start with language about how faculty and students must understand and accept systemic racism, et cetera, et cetera. So, they’re kind of in the “wherefore” clauses, they’re establishing an official ideology at the campus, which we’ve never done before, and shouldn’t be done. And last but not least, it will have a very chilling effect on free expression on campus. Because if you disagree with what they say, you are now not only smeared as a racist. You’re now arguably in violation of university policy, and Cornell already has a free expression problem.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, last fall, released a survey of 55 schools, colleges, and universities. I’m not sure how they pick them, but they’re all names you would recognize. And Cornell was ranked 40th out of the 55, which is a bad ranking. And we ranked particularly low on students’ feelings about their ability to express themselves. So, we ranked very low. I think it was two thirds or more of Cornell students who were surveyed said they do not feel free to express their opinions on campus. And so you combine it all and it’s taking a not good situation and making it a lot worse. So to me, it’s a disaster. It is going down the wrong road. Even if you agree with Critical Race Theory, my goodness, you can’t shake a stick on campus without hitting a course or a workshop or a protest or a student activist group.
I mean the Critical Race [Theory] is everywhere on campus and that’s not enough for them. It’s not enough for them to do it. They’re obviously not getting the attendance they want. It’s probably the same hundred people going to each of these events every time, in a student population of 17,000. So now they’re going to use coercion to force people to take it. And I think maybe they should be asking themselves, why on a liberal campus their ideas are not more popular. They’re not penetrating. More people don’t want to take their courses. There’s a certain group that does, and that’s fine. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be able to offer it, but why do they have to go to coercion? And I think that’s the one thing they don’t want to talk about is, why they have to force people to do it.
Dan Freeborn (22:52):
Right. And it just brings me back to a point that you brought up earlier in this little piece here, the fact that this would be, I’ll say, essentially mandating an ideology that the universities are taking a stance on. When it comes down to the micro level, in these conversations, [when] we get down to the core of that, why can’t we bridge this gap? Those that are for this mandating of the ideology of Critical Race Theory on campuses and those that don’t one side sees it as an ideology, and…that the other side that’s pro-critical race theory, whether they believe it what they’re saying or not, is an ideology. How do we get past this divide?
William A. Jacobson (23:30):
Well, I think by not forcing it on people. If they want to make the case that this is the direction we should be going, let them make the case. So I’m not going to tell people what the outcome should be, except that it shouldn’t be mandated. That’s my only issue.
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Dan Freeborn, Host (32:04):
And you’ve got a long history in higher education. Did you ever imagine yourself teaching in a time where this was [the case]?
William A. Jacobson (32:11):
Higher Ed. was not my first career. [I] was a practicing lawyer for 22 to 23 years before I switched over to academia. I became very ill and had to close my law practice. And, as the saying goes, those who can’t do, teach. After a year of sitting at home, I said, “Cornell is looking for somebody exactly in my specialty. How is that? How hard can it be to teach?” So I threw in a resume and the next thing you know, I’m hired, and I’ve been there ever since. So I was hired in the… fall of 2007. And I started January 2008. And at the time I started, I did not have my website. My website was founded in October 2008, 10 months later. There isn’t a single doubt in my mind that if I had my website, I would not have been hired, not even a close call. I think that’s just a given. So, and you know, so I think that that is another example. Don’t take me as proof that the system welcomes diversity of opinion. Take me as one that [slipped] through the cracks.
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Dan Freeborn (44:06):
And I see it as such a key piece to this college search process. It lasts for years. College search starts even before freshman year in high school. Now, so much of recruitment happens in elementary schools and just getting them used to the idea of [a] four-year degree is what’s happening next in your life. I would love for you to break apart two different groups here and share some advice for parents as they’re going through the college search with their young kids, and then also for the students that are finding themselves maybe junior, senior year in high school, how do you navigate this? Are there questions they should be asking colleges if they’re visiting? How should they be going through this process while incorporating the research with critical race theory?
William A. Jacobson (44:48):
On our website, I don’t know if it’s there yet, but it’s going to be there any moment. It’s ready to go. We’ve created a list of questions that students or parents can or should ask. We’ve done it in the letter format, but you don’t need to do it in a letter. You can just ask them where you could look on the [college’s] website. So I think the first thing is spend as much time understanding the campus culture and the campus requirements as you do figuring out how good the dining room food is. Okay. I mean the students, particularly high school students, I think particularly focus on very strange things sometimes. What are the athletic facilities like? How late are things open on campus? So while I know there’s a tension in some place, some families, the parents will have a lot of input and others, not so much, but I think a lot of the burden falls on the parents because the students may not necessarily know what to look for.
They may have other priorities, and so I think parents need to do a lot of that. But students too, there are many capable high school students. Just understand the culture. Read the student newspaper, go all online. Now, go back and read the student newspaper. What that will tell you, what’s happening on campus, maybe a little bit of a skewed view, but if there’s negative stuff happening on campus, it’s probably in the student newspaper at most schools. Do internet searches; visit the campus. If every wall is plastered with the equivalent of propaganda posters, that’s a sign of something. Really do your homework because you’re going to spend two or four years at this place, and you’re going to spend a ton of money at this place. And I think you owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your child, to understand what you’re getting yourself involved in, both from an educational perspective, but also from a social perspective and from a risk perspective. There are schools that are in the newspaper frequently where people are targeted by these activist students.
And personally, I would stay away from those places. If you’ve got places like Middlebury College, where they shouted down and attacked a professor, where the student body seems to be completely radicalized. My Alma mater, Hamilton College in upstate New York, which used to stay by-the-book liberal arts education, is completely radicalized now. Understand what you’re getting yourself into because you may not only be deprived of educational opportunities. You may not only be forced to sit some through some class and nod your head with the professor and regurgitate to the professor on the final exam, what the professor wants to hear about Critical Race Theory and how we evil the United States is because you don’t want a bad grade, which I think is what a lot of students do.
They understand the game that gets played, but you are actually putting yourself at risk if you go to a highly radicalized school, particularly a highly radicalized small school, because in a big university, you can kind of find your own space. You can find your own crowd. But in a 1,500 or 2,000 student school, there is no place to hide. And you could very easily find your name all over the internet accused of something, because you looked at somebody the wrong way. Look at what’s coming out about what happened at Smith College, where this cafeteria worker and a security guard were falsely accused of racial profiling, [the activists] destroyed them. It’s tearing apart the school. There are real consequences to this movement that we’re seeing, which is a combination of cancel culture, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and just mean-spiritedness of the type that people can be very cruel to each other when they have the power to do that. And that’s what you’re seeing in a lot of these places. It’s cancel culture, critical race theory, and cruelty.
Dan Freeborn, Host (49:10):
Yeah, the trifecta….
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